[Disclaimer: Real names are replaced for anonymity]
This was a narrative I’ve heard of before, years back, but has still continued to make sense up until now.
Felicity, a public primary school teacher, started to notice a drastic change in her pupil’s behavior. Her student, an 8-year-old girl, once blithesome and happy, started to be aloof and wordless; her lips ghastly in color, eyes always far remote, and hair… once pigtailed chaotically with colorful rubbers, now only down and frizzy. In one instance, Felicity had asked the children to bring out their lunch boxes for recess— however, she’d notice the girl to just stare at her lunch box, not touching it, nor even attempting to look at what’s inside. Bothered and fretful, Felicity decided to ask the pupil if she had any problems… “Wala po, teacher, ayaw ko lang po kumain. Pinakain po kasi akong lollipop ni tito bago pumasok sa school,” the child answered. Even though it made sense, and children may tend to have small appetites especially after sweets, the way the pupil answered still concerned Felicity. It was as though the child was traumatized but was not aware that what she had experienced was wrong.
Months later, she’d been shocked to know that an uncle had been molesting the child. The “lollipop” was a term taught to the child to replace the word ‘penis,’ and that she had been taught to use other words for sensitive body parts as well. The uncle was trusted to take care of the child since both parents were busy at work. No one knew about the horrors confined inside the house right before the child went to school, nor had any idea because the uncle seemed cultured. Moreover, this explains the sudden taciturnity of the once-jolly child, it was already a cry-for-help, and yet the teacher had no idea.
That narrative was from a family friend— eleven years ago. I had heard of this as a child as well, apparently, it was my nature as a youngster to eavesdrop on adult conversations. However, more than a decade later, as a young adult, it already made sense to me. What crept on my skin is that, if it happened to a young girl in a small municipality, what are the odds that the same is happening to other children?
Children Sexual Exploitation
In battling crimes against children, we have to stem it down to the primary setback we have at hand— child sexual abuse. Legislatively, while we have the Republic Act 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act) to seek and punish perpetrators, we still have about seven million children being sexually abused every year in the country. This is the prevalent problem being grappled with by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). In the given victim-population, 98% are girls while 33% are incest cases. These children are mostly [sexually] exploited for commercial reasons, usually sold for pornography or prostitution.
While there is a persistent action existing to address the issue, wrongdoers are still adamant on pursuing the crimes, probably for the good money it offers. With the NCMEC CyberTipline report through the International Justice Mission (IJM), it is found that most child sexual crimes occur online. Using this fact at our disposal, we may safely assume that since the demand comes from a rather elitist medium, those who buy child crime content are willing to pay handsomely to appease their revolting desires. The same report also claimed that the Philippines stands as a hotspot for online child sex exploitation, this is gathered through participating law enforcement agencies globally. Additionally, it reported that the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used for child sexual exploitation upthrusted from 43 out of every 10,000 in 2014 to 149 out of every 10,000 in 2017.
An in-depth case file review provided by IJM had more key findings: that the crime was usually family-based, abuse lasted for years without intervention, customers mostly were older men, western, and spoke English, and that crime occurred on the internet. With the Asia-Pacific region being the third largest source of “online enticement,” it is only up to the authorities with willing global non-governmental organizations to bring justice to the victims.
RA 11596— law criminalizing child marriage
With the Republic Act 11596 recently being signed into law, a small patch was formed on the large crater of responsibility we need to fill in as adults. With child marriage being criminalized through the eyes of the law, regardless of tradition and culture, more children are protected from being unwillingly wed by adults through arrangements. By standing on this legislative move, we are one step ahead in protecting children against abuse and exploitation. The only possible problem posed is the actual execution— RA 7610 has long existed but most child predators have still been lurking around unscathed, moreover, may the RA 11596 be enforced and effective.
The eyes of the law have always been for the safe-guarding of the children. Moreso, the 1987 Constitution, Article 2, Section 13 recognizes the vital role of youth in nation-building and vows, on behalf of the state, for the protection of their holistic well-being. Nevertheless, as adults, it is also more than a judicial responsibility for us to recognize and protect the children, it is also a moral obligation. We are raising the future generations, therefore, if we fail to protect them today, there might not be any tomorrow lying in wait.
With this, may the fangs of the law be sharp enough to draw blood from the arms of the predators and traffickers.